Heading into the offseason, a cloud of uncertainty hovered over the Milwaukee Bucks.
The majority of their scoring output came in the form of an ultra-quick and highly skilled backcourt made up of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. But outside of their dynamic duo, the Bucks had several glaring holes across the board.
The key piece that went back to Golden State in the Ellis deal was Andrew Bogut, and although Milwaukee picked up another talented scorer in Ellis, the loss of Bogut left the Bucks with an obvious need for a rim protector on defense.
In addition to weak post defense, Milwaukee lacked athletes in their frontcourt, and they had a serious shortage of three-point shooters.
Now almost two weeks after the NBA Finals, the Bucks have already answered several of those key question marks and appear to be a better team headed into 2012.
As far as player transactions go, the Bucks are one of the most active teams in the NBA. Rarely, though, does Milwaukee end up getting the better end of the deal.
However, it certainly appears that the Bucks have given up less to get more in each of their past two trades. When they acquired Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh from Golden State, they parted ways with an injured Andrew Bogut and a headache in Stephen Jackson—two players that weren’t helping the Bucks in the slightest on the court.
The loss of Bogut required veteran power forward Drew Gooden to kick over to the starting center position, and it forced the team to rely on an inexperienced rotation of Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh to fill in as needed.
Thanks to the recently acquired Samuel Dalembert, the Bucks’ center position is no longer a question mark.
Not only did it cost the Bucks very little to gain a lot—Milwaukee moved down from the No. 12 pick to the No. 14 pick, and traded three situational role players in forwards Jon Leuer and Jon Brockman, and guard Shaun Livingston—they also now have a pretty clear idea of what their starting five will be when the 2012 season kicks off.
Dalembert may not be a “star,” but in a league without many legitimate centers, Dalembert—who has career averages of 8.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per night—is most certainly a starting-caliber player.
Drew Gooden, who is coming off a solid season in his own right, will join Dalembert in the Bucks’ starting frontcourt. Jennings and Ellis will hold down the backcourt and continue to be the driving force behind the Milwaukee Bucks, while defensive specialist Luc Mbah-a-Moute will likely start at small forward.
Now with the starting center position settled, the Bucks can be more flexible with their rotations, instead of being forced to shuffle players into different positions like last year.
Prior to last week’s NBA Draft, rumors suggested that the Bucks were interested in moving into the top 10 to add a young post presence. Their target was said to be either North Carolina power forward Henson or Connecticut center Andre Drummond.
Instead of trading up, the Bucks moved down two spots in the draft as part of their trade with the Rockets for Samuel Dalembert.
Now armed with the No. 14 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Bucks appeared to still be in position to take a long, athletic perimeter player to complement undersized scoring guards Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. After the Raptors surprised people by taking Washington guard/forward Terrence Ross with the eighth pick, the Bucks’ primary focus may have went out the window, although another opportunity awaited them at No. 14.
With the last pick in the lottery, the Bucks undoubtedly did not expect a top 10 talent like Henson to fall to them at 14—but that’s exactly what happened.
Henson, a player Milwaukee considered trading up for, figures to see significant time as a rookie, unlike last year’s first-round pick Tobias Harris. Henson was never an elite scorer at the college level, but his defensive presence and relentless rebounding effort should translate to the professional game very quickly.
Last year’s Bogut trade left the Bucks’ post rotation very thin, but after acquiring Dalembert and drafting Henson, the frontcourt may be the deepest area on Milwaukee’s roster.
Following their dream-come-true scenario that unfolded in the first round, the Bucks found a potential gem in the second round in Kentucky shooting guard Doron Lamb. After Milwaukee made Lamb the No. 42 overall pick, my immediate though was, “Great, but didn’t the Bucks already draft this guy a few years ago when he went by the name of Jodie Meeks?”
In hindsight, the Bucks may have been better off keeping Meeks instead of trading him to the 76ers, as Milwaukee has been in dire need of three-point shooters since Michael Redd became a regular into the training room, and he subsequently moved to Phoenix.
Milwaukee hopes Lamb, Kentucky’s top three-point shooter in school history, at 47.5 percent, will settle its need for pure shooters.
Although the Bucks struggled to get the same level of production from its frontcourt following the Bogut trade, it allowed several young post players to get valuable playing time that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
Bogut’s absence allowed for Drew Gooden’s emergence within the Bucks’ offense.
Gooden enjoyed his best season since signing with Milwaukee, as he averaged 13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last year. Bogut’s best attribute as a post player was his ability to pass the basketball and generate open shots for teammates. Without him in the lineup, Gooden enjoyed a career-high 2.6 assists per game in 2011.
He will remain Milwaukee’s top post-scoring threat in 2012, but with Dalembert as the starting center, Gooden will be able to play his natural position at power forward.
Milwaukee’s inexperienced platoon of big men in 2011 played significantly more minutes since the Bucks shipped Bogut off to Golden State. Two such players, Jon Brockman and Jon Leuer have since been traded to the Rockets in the Dalembert deal, but both Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders showed some promise in limited time last season.
Headed into 2012, Udoh and Sanders project as reserves, but both will be better equipped for limited minutes following a season in which they played much more prominent roles.
Unrestricted free agent Ersan Ilyasova, coming off the best season of his career, is expected to receive a larger contract elsewhere. Ilyasova averaged 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in 2011, and his absence will leave the Bucks with a need for a versatile offensive threat.
The slack left by Ilyasova will be need to be picked up by several players next season, one of which being Mike Dunleavy who is coming off a resurgent 2011 campaign.
Dunleavy was a pleasant surprise for Milwaukee last season, averaging 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. His per-game average of 26.3 minutes will likely increase as he enters his 11th season in the league.
Last year’s first round pick Tobias Harris is still just 19 years old, and he will surely see more playing time in 2012 after appearing in just 42 games last year, in which he played just 11.3 minutes per game.
Combined with a couple new acquisitions, the Bucks’ returning players have Milwaukee’s sights set on the playoffs in 2012.